It’s been a difficult couple of weeks for Liverpool. Hot on the heels of losing to Swansea City a Anfield on 21 January, a defeat which has severely dented their title hopes, the Reds suffered the double set-back of being eliminated from both domestic cup competitions.
The previously free-scoring Merseysiders have found goals a little harder to come by of late, while keeping the ball out of their own net has been a major issue.
Reports is Portugal last week suggested that Jurgen Klopp has identified Sporting Clube de Portugal midfielder William Carvalho as the man to form a protective shield in front of the Anfield club’s leaky backline.
But what would the Portugal international offer that Liverpool’s current central midfield options can’t?
The main difference between Carvalho and the midfielders currently at Klopp’s disposal is that the Sporting star is a specialist anchor man.
Jordan Henderson and Emre Can have both featured regularly in the deep central midfielder role’s within Klopp’s system this term. But they act more as deep lying playmakers, tasked with instigating attacking moves from deep and utilising their excellent vision and passing range, rather than sitting in front of the back for and concerning themselves primarily with intercepting and nipping opposition attacks in the bud.
The only true defensive midfielder Klopp can call upon at the moment is 30-year-old Lucas Leiva, but he has featured exclusively at centre-back this term, and the Reds will aspire to acquiring a higher calibre anchor if they hope to mount a serious title challenge.
Carvalho may not pose as much of an offensive threat as Can or Henderson, with their ability to pick out a killer pass or shoot powerfully and accurately from distance, but he has outstanding positional sense and anticipation, allowing him to read the way opposing teams build their attacks and place himself in the optimum zone to act as a barrier.
Comparing the statistics of players in different countries is not an exact science as the differing styles and general quality level can have a major effect of a player’s numbers.
However, as a loose guide as to what Carvalho could do for Liverpool, his 1.7 interceptions per game in Liga NOS this season is better than Can’s 1.1 and the same as Henderson’s output.
The Portuguese also makes the same amount of clearances per outing as Henderson (1.1) and more than Can (0.9).
Henderson’s four tackles per game dwarfs Carvalho’s production in that area (1.8), while Can (2.1) also betters the Sporting player here . This perhaps more refects Liverpool’s high-tempo style, though. The Reds are instructed to press their opposition frantically, hurrying the player on the ball and opening up more opportunities to make tackles and interceptions.
With Sporting enjoying more than 60 percent of possession on average, Jorge Jesus’ men arguably exert a greater degree of control over the majority of the sides they come up against, and are therefore less inclined to press as much as Liverpool do.
At last summer’s European Championship, Carvalho started five games for the eventual winners. In the majority of these games, Portugal were set up in an uber-defensive system, aimed at stifling the opposition.
And it was in these games that the 24-year-old’s defensive acumen flourished, making 2.6 tackles and 2.8 clearances per match.
All of this isn’t to say that Carvalho is technically deficient, however. His 88 percent pass completion rate this term – better than both Henderson (86.8 percent) and Can (81.5 percent) — shows that he is a safe pair of hands when in possession, and he has even registered three assists, showing he can be creative when given the chance.
And with an average of 76.2 passes per game, he is more than happy to take responsibility for getting on the ball and controlling his zone.
But his 0.5 key passes per game, compared to Henderson’s 1.3 and Can’s 1.1, demonstrates that he tends to look for the simple pass rather than taking the risk of losing the ball in an effort to unlock a defence.
What the addition of Carvalho would give Liverpool that could prove more valuable than any particular attribute is that, rather than look to replace Can or particularly Henderson, his presence at the base of midfield would allow the more creative pair to operate higher up the pitch, with a little more freedom.
Henderson is arguably the most improved player in the Premier League this season; the former Sunderland man seems to be playing with a new confidence in his own abilities. His development could potentially rocket yet further if he were to be freed from the shackles of defensive responsibility.
In that regard, the impact of Carvalho’s arrival would be twofold: he would add an assuredness and protective element in the middle of the park, while also allowing some of the Liverpool’s more gifted midfielders the chance to supplement the attack.